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July 28, 2007


I am going with Digby's take on this bipartisan nonsense.

You are right that bipartisanship is a process -- its useful for bridging policy differences. It is not a policy in and of itself, and represents nothing except disagreeing in an agreeable way that may make some form of compromise possible (if there is a compromise to be made).

It's not possible with the current radical version of the Republican Party, and its a mistake to think that its a positive value in dealing with that crowd. And the current proponents of "bipartisanship" demand it only of Democrats -- Slaughter wrote nothing of this ilk prior to 2006. I wonder why?

If bipartisanship is the opposite of extreme partisanship, then you can get a different reason for supporting bipartisanship than simply improved policy. Policy may not be the only victim of extreme partisanship.

Extreme partisanship, wherin one party's focus is more on opposing the other party than in supporting our country, can lead to frustration and disillusionment of the electorate. It can be corrosive to democracy, itself.

For example, the firing of the US Attorneys for purely political reasons is, to my mind, an example of extreme partisanship, in that it places the party above the very institutions of our Democracy.

In this sense a more bipartisan procedure would be an improvement regardless of the substantive merits of the policy effects. Who knows, perhaps the politically motivated appointees are, on the average, better than the U S Attorneys they replaced ( although the odds would be very low). Even if that turns out to be true, the damage to our electorate's perception of how our democracy works is greater than any substantive result.

In other words, I guess I disagree and think bipartisanship is, to some degree, good in and of itself.

Not to say the term isn't grossly misused, your other point with which I wholly agree.

This is a slippery topic, because everything turns on nuance. There are two extremes here:

1. Ideology. This extreme sees no reason for bipartisanship because it refuses to compromise on anything. There are fundamental principles that we won't compromise on, these people declare. A good example comes from the abortion debate. Many of the pro-life people refuse to compromise at all on the basic idea that life begins at conception. And some of the pro-choice people refuse to compromise on the notion that a women must have complete control over her body. The result is a festering boil in the body politic that poisons all reasoned discussion and prevents a resolution.

2. Pragmatism. A good example of this was the Democratic surrender under the threat of the 'nuclear option'. The "bipartisan solution" was pretty much a surrender because the Democrats knew that they didn't have the power to stand up to the Republican threat.

Excepting ideologues, nobody goes near the first pole. The second pole does have plenty of adherents. Most people fall somewhere between the two poles. That's why this discussion can so easily become pointless, as each side accuses the other of residing at the pole. The real question is, where on the scale do you fall?

I suggest that this is such a fundamental issue that there's no basis for proving that there's any correct position. I myself fall much closer to the pragmatic pole than the ideological pole. If you'd rather fall closer to the ideological pole, that's your business, and neither of us can gainsay the other.

That said, I hope that the American public as a whole shifts more to the pragmatic pole than the ideological pole. Remember, what you call "principles" will be "pig-headedness" in somebody else's eyes. For a really scary example of what I mean, check out this website:


These people are vicious! If you want to insist upon your principles, then they're just as justified insisting on theirs.

I had difficulty following the details of the immigration debate, but when I saw that the final result infuriated the extremists on both sides, and angered just about everybody else, I knew that it represented a decent compromise: something nobody likes but everybody can live with.

I don't think it's true that enthusiasts of bipartisanship always "treat the word bipartisan as a substitute for 'my preferred policy.'" That would make sense, yes, but not everything does make sense..

In some cases it looks to me like the support for bipartisanship is a sincere process argument. That is not praise. This is an odd situation where sincerity makes a lot less sense than a hidden agenda. But with the immigration bill, for example, I had the sense that a lot of not-very-bright commentators really were interested in bipartisanship as an end in itself. They wanted a bipartisan compromise to be passed, but had very little interest in the actual details of that compromise. Similarly, you see a lot of people praising any trade treaty that comes along, without showing any curiosity about what's written in the thousands of pages of that treaty.

Why would anyone sincerely support bipartisanship as a goal in itself, irrespective of what policy the bipartisan coalition wants to implement? A variety of reasons, I'd think, most of them pretty shallow. Maybe part of it is a sense of drama, a desire to see politicians do unexpected things. (This is probably coupled to nostalgia and a fall-from-grace narrative.) Maybe part of it is a sense that mass political movements are unseemly, that government ought to be the business of small groups of reasonable men talking quietly to each other.

And underlying all of this an important fact: most people, even most people who write political commentary in the US, care a lot less about policy than you do. The idea that discussions of politics should always be based on underlying policy goals is probably foreign to most op-ed writers.

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate voted on partisan lines to defeat the Webb amendment, which would have required a minimum 1:1 ratio of recycle time versus deployment time for American soldiers.

The same day, the Senate voted for the Lieberman amendment 97-0, which is as bipartisan as you can get. The Lieberman amendment requires the President to report to Congress on Iran's nefarious doings in Iraq.

'Nuff said.

There are situations where bipartisanship as a policy goal makes sense: usually when trying to get communal buy in. Consider Lincoln's selection of Andrew Johnson, a Northerner, as Vice-President; or Lebanon's partition of executive positions among ethnic groups.

I don't think the current US situation is quite so disunited as all that, but it's not the case that bipartisanship-as-policy is always a bad idea.

Personally, I am in favor of genuinely bipartisan stuff, where by 'genuinely bipartisan' I mean: things that both sides can agree to without sacrificing their principles, things that really are win/win. Of course, this isn't always possible, but when it exists, it's great. I also support the effort to achieve this, when it's not obviously misguided: sometimes, people are locked into one way of looking at things, a way that leads each side to see compromise as impossible, and there's another way that lets them see that they were wrong, and where both parties would be willing to accept something that really did serve their interests, trying to find a way to recast a debate so that they can see a way to do that is a good thing.

There are several things I can't stand that go by the name of bipartisanship, though. One is what publius said: treating 'the bipartisan solution as a name for 'what I want'. Sometimes that's true, but it requires a lot of argument; in WaPo editorials, it's usually false.

The second is: pretending that genuine bipartisanship is always possible. It's not. It requires two sides acting in reasonably good faith, and capable of being persuaded by arguments. When one side (or both) is, say, hell-bent on opposing whatever its opponents want, and whatever would serve their interests, and when that opposition is more important to it than any positive achievement of its own, then asking for bipartisanship is stupid.

What really bugs me about the whole Broder/Slaughter/ etc. view is that it seems hell-bent on denying something that I take to be unbelievably obvious: that the present Congressional Republicans are just not interested in bipartisanship. Given that fact, and given that it takes two to be bipartisan, bipartisanship is just not going to happen.

I think we can and should leave open routes by which they might change their mind, and generally refrain from the kind of scorched-earth tactics that will make it harder for this to end. But pretending that they are willing to be bipartisan when they are not would just be dumb.

Likewise, pretending not to know whose fault it is.

I heartily agree with the notion that bipartisanship is a two-way street. I'll go further and note that Republicans have shown little interest in bipartisanship. They speak proudly of their "party discipline", which is a euphemism for partisanship. Republicans toe the party line much more assiduously than Democrats. That makes bipartisanship impossible.

I remain a firm believer in bipartisanship. I don't believe that the Democrats need any reminding about the importance of this. I do believe that Republicans need to learn this. Fortunately, with the upcoming collapse of Republican control of the government, it seems that they'll be reduced to the bipartisanship of supplicants. I hope they learn their lesson.

I guess I want to re-emphasize one of the original assertions of the post, that bipartisanship is, at best, a RESULT of the drive for certain policy ends and NOT an end unto itself. To a priori assert a tactic (or nebulous, Broder-esque desire for mythical 'can't we all get along' camaraderie) as a desirable end result makes about as much sense as the whole 'war on terrah' semantic bull***t. Also, the very existence of our political system is a function of opposing interests; by definition, then, anyone who preemptively trots out 'bipartisanship' as a prerequisite for policy formulation, or even worse, as a necessary condition for effective governance, is in effect dismissing the very process of difficult negotiation and compromise which the shallow rhetoric of 'bipartisanship' is supposed to be promoting. As mentioned several times above, this then amounts to nothing more than a cheap short-circuiting of actual debate in order to preemptively present one’s own position as truly ‘moderate,’ or ‘centrist,’ or whatever. Ultimately, however, this pernicious dismissal of the actual work necessary to governing in a democracy is highly degradative to our political discourse, and it’s good for the country that folks are starting to deconstruct it.

Bipartisanship requires a respect for the other side, at least for their power and legitimacy, and a recognition that you can't get anything you want if you don't acknowledge their right to get something else in turn. That used to be a working definition of politics, too. But this administration would rather no work get done than acknowledge the legitimacy of their opponents or anything they value.

Witness their first term management of Congress, where they pulled legislation if Democrats supported it too much. They acted as if they were negotiating in a bazaar; if the seller agreed to sell, you were offering too much. Witness also their current refusal to fill hundreds of top posts throughout govt, especially at the DOJ and DHS. There are several reasons for this, including the administration's disorder, its dysfunction and its unpopularity with its own backers. But it also demonstrates a preference to neuter govt rather than allow it to be put into neutral, much less into an opponent's hands.

Bipartisanship has a dirty name in part because this administration has relentlessly stalked its proponents regardless of which side of the aisle they came from. Like the Body Snatchers, it has substituted a double while the Democrats slept, epitomized by Kneepads Lieberman, whose notion of "bipartisanship" is abject submission. In his case, Mr. Cheney doesn't need a leash; Joe has learned to heel without being told.

I prefer to call things by their true names and the true name for bipartisanship is compromise. It is a legitimate tactic or stratagem for getting most of what you want most of the time. For us ordinary folk it is almost always a good idea to seek out a compromise. We rarely have to power to enforce our will on others and even when we do it is still better in the long run to offer a compromise even if we don't have to. I think that is what people mean when they say that bipartisanship itself is a good idea. It is, most of the time.

But these are not ordinary times and we are dealing with people for whom compromise is not possible nor a very good idea. They are in fact bullys and it is a standard tactic for bullys to never compromise with others but demand that others compromise with them.

Many people feel that this is exactly what is going on. That the Republicans are using just such a strategy and that the end result is that everything gets shifted to the right. This is what we see. Over time the nation has been moved further and further to the right to where today we are on the brink of fascism.

It seems to many that this was the goal in the first place. That there has been a deliberate, conscious effort to turn the US into an Authoritarian state. There seems to be some good evidence backing this up.

We cannot allow this, we must resist at every point and we can never compromise our principles.

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